Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. T. O. Mabbott), “The Balloon Hoax,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. III: Tales and Sketches (1978), pp. 1063-1088 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 1063:]


This is one of the most famous of Poe's compositions, and is an entertaining adventure story. It is a hoax in that it is an account of a fictional aeronautic crossing of the Atlantic, told as if it had really occurred. Published on April 13, 1844, it was less a flight of the imagination than many have supposed. There were serious plans both here and in England, by respectable flyers, to cross the ocean by air. These plans did not come to fruition for many years, but that they did not was due to circumstances which probably need not have been insurmountable in 1844. The idea was in the air. Poe and his earliest reader knew it.* Subsequently, interest in transatlantic flying waned to such a degree that in the later decades of the last century the average man thought of it as incredible.

In 1910 Walter B. Norris recalled for twentieth-century readers that “in 1836 and thereabouts there was a great interest in aeronautics, and several aeronauts, especially Charles Green and John Wise, the prominent balloonists in England and America, respectively, had proposed to try crossing the Atlantic.” Norris also pointed out that Poe in “The Balloon Hoax” had depended chiefly on the story of an actual balloon trip, Monck Mason's Account of the Late Aeronautical Expedition from London to Weilburg, accomplished by Robert Hollond, Esq., Monck Mason, Esq., and [page 1064:] Charles Green, Aeronaut, published in London in 1836 and in New York in 1837. Norris's material was greatly amplified by Harold H. Scudder and by Ronald Sterne Wilkinson.§

Poe certainly was long aware of plans to cross the ocean in a balloon, for he must have seen references in Burton's Gentleman's Magazine for March and May 1840* to Charles Green's belief in the possibility of going by that means from New York to Europe. Another probable inspiration was a plan of the American, John Wise, described in an article headed “Aerial Voyage” in the Dollar Newspaper, June 21, 1843, the issue containing the first installment of “The Gold-Bug.” Wise planned a spherical balloon using hydrogen gas, designed to take advantage of west-to-east current. He estimated the trip would take three days. One Pennington, inventor of a flying machine, was willing to accompany him. [page 1065:]

An even more immediate inspiration appeared in Alexander's Express Messenger, February 21, 1844, in an article entitled “Another Aerial Machine,” describing Monck Mason's model, on exhibition in London, which had just been moved from Willis's Rooms to the Adelaide Gallery, and giving “an engraving illustrative of its construction.” With very slight variations, the article in the Express Messenger was taken from an unsigned pamphlet, written by Mason (see Hodgson, History of Aeronautics, p. 411), Remarks on the Ellipsoidal Balloon propelled by the Archimedean Screw, described as the New Aerial Machine (London, 1843). The pamphlet was undoubtedly the ultimate source of some paragraphs in Poe's story, as Wilkinson, cited above, pointed out, but small details indicate that Poe actually used, as he did so often, the article immediately at hand, paraphrasing this material freely, as Wilkinson says, “to add realism to his description of the construction of the ‘Victoria,’ much as he used Mason's Account to give the required verisimilitude to the transatlantic voyage.” The parallel passages from Mason's two pieces, collected by Scudder and Wilkinson, are given in the notes following Poe's text, below.

Shortly before the article in the Express Messenger appeared, there occurred an event that provided the means for having the pretended report of the voyage received by only one newspaper. The New York American for the Country, February 15, 1844§ printed the following note:

Ahead of the Mail. — The Charleston papers of last Monday acknowledge the receipt of papers from this city three days in advance of the mail. They were carried by the brig Moon, Capt. Hayes, who made a very short run. [page 1066:]

In the first paragraph of his story Poe says, “By the energy of an agent at Charleston, S.C., we are enabled to be the first to furnish the public with a detailed account of this most extraordinary voyage.”

Poe's tale was presumably written or at least begun before the Poes left Philadelphia, early in April 1844, for New York, where Poe soon sold his production to Richard Adams Locke of the Sun, author of the celebrated Moon Hoax.* In the regular issue of the Sun for April 13, 1844, an announcement (possibly written by Poe) was printed. It reads:

Postscript / By Express

Astounding Intelligence by Private Express from Charleston via Norfolk! — The Atlantic Ocean crossed in three days!! — Arrival at Sullivan's Island of a Steering Balloon invented by Mr. Monck Mason.

We stop the press at a late hour to announce that by a Private Express from Charleston, S.C., we are just put in possession of full details of the most extraordinary adventure ever accomplished by man. The Atlantic Ocean has been actually traversed in a balloon and in the incredibly brief period of Three Days! Eight persons have crossed in the machine — among others Sir Everard Bringhurst and Mr. Monck Mason. We have barely time now to announce this most novel and unexpected intelligence; but we hope by 10 this morning to have ready an Extra with a detailed account of the voyage.

P.S. The Extra will be positively ready and for sale at our counter by 10 o’clock this morning. It will embrace all the particulars yet known. We have also placed in the hands of an excellent artist a representation of the “Steering Balloon,” which will accompany the particulars of the voyage.

The actual reception of the “Balloon Hoax” was less enthusiastic than its author had hoped. His own description of what happened, published less than six weeks after the event, tells us that the “Extra” announced for ten o’clock was not delivered until nearly noon, that there was a great crowd about the Sun building (corner of Nassau and Fulton streets) from soon after sunrise, that it was hard to get possession of a paper, that some newsboys received [page 1067:] twelve and a half cents for each copy, and that one sold for fifty cents. Poe claimed, “The more intelligent believed, while the rabble ... rejected the whole with disdain.” He admitted that good grounds for doubt were the difficulty of running an express ahead of the mail from Charleston and “publication ... in the suspected ‘Sun’ (the organ of the Moon-Hoax)” — but said that he would not be surprised to learn in the course of a month or two that a balloon had made the voyage.

Major Mordecai M. Noah, who republished the hoax in his Sunday Times of April 14, also printed a humorous comment: “If it be true that the ballooning experiment has succeeded, there will probably be a demand for the material whereof gas is formed. We would recommend any company to engage Mr. -----, he being the greatest condensation of gas that we know of.”

Another New York Sunday paper — the Mercury — of the same day printed a story headed:

By Express / Astounding Intelligence from the Man in the / Moon / Boundless space travelled in the / Twinkling of a Bed Post / Arrival, in New York, of a / Moon-Beam, / With extraordinary and exclusive intelligence / for the Sunday Mercury. /

Monday's papers were in general unimpressed. The elder James Gordon Bennett, calling the piece “Beach's Last Hoax” (Moses Y. Beach was editor of the Sun), said in the New York Herald that a better writer should have been employed. The New York American of April 15, 1844 said, “The Sun has issued an Extra with a poor imitation of the Moon Hoax.” In Philadelphia, the Native American referred to the story as brought by “jackass express” in almost a column of jocular comment entitled “Extraordinary Arrival. The New Era Commenced.”

The Sun itself, of course, carried a retraction on April 15 that reads:

BALLOON — The mails from the South last Saturday night not having brought a confirmation of the arrival of the Balloon from England, the particulars of which from our correspondent we detailed in our Extra, we are inclined to believe that the intelligence is erroneous. The description of the Balloon and the voyage was written with a minuteness and scientific ability calculated to [page 1068:] obtain credit everywhere, and was read with great pleasure and satisfaction. We by no means think such a project impossible.

Whether Poe or Locke wrote the retraction is uncertain, but it sums up the case nicely.

Poe took little pains to conceal his authorship.§ James Russell Lowell was allowed to publish the firm ascription in his sketch of Poe (which had the subject's approval) in Graham's Magazine for February 1845, issued about January 15.


(A) The Extra Sun, April 13, 1844; (B) Works (1850), I, 88-101. The immediate reprint of A in the New York Sunday Times, April 14, 1844, is regarded as permitted by the author but shows no deliberate revisions.

Griswold's text (B) which shows a few slight auctorial revisions is followed.

The only known copy of A is at the American Antiquarian Society. Clarence S. Brigham's Poe's “Balloon Hoax” (Metuchen, New Jersey, 1932) is a little pamphlet with a much reduced reproduction of the broadside, a separate from American Book Collector, February 1932.

THE BALLOON-HOAX.   [B]   [[v]]

{aa}[Astounding News by Express, via Norfolk! — The Atlantic crossed in Three Days! Signal Triumph of Mr. Monck Mason's Flying Machine! — Arrival at Sullivan's Island, near Charleston, S.C., of Mr. Mason, Mr. Robert Holland, Mr. Henson, Mr. Harrison Ainsworth, and four others, in the Steering Balloon, “Victoria,” after a passage of Seventy-five Hours from Land to Land! Full Particulars of the Voyage!{aa} (1)

{bb} The subjoined jeu d’esprit with the preceding heading in magnificent capitals, well interspersed with notes of admiration, was originally published, as matter of fact, in the “New-York Sun,” a daily newspaper, and therein fully subserved the purpose of creating indigestible aliment for the quidnuncs during the few hours intervening between a couple of the Charleston mails. The [page 1069:] rush for the “sole paper which had the news,” was something beyond even the prodigious; and, in fact, if (as some assert) the “Victoria” did not absolutely accomplish the voyage recorded, it will be difficult to assign a reason why she should not have accomplished it.]{bb}

The great problem is at length solved!{c} The air, as well as the earth and the ocean, has been subdued by science, and will become a common and convenient highway for mankind. The Atlantic has been actually crossed in a Balloon!{d} and this too without difficulty — without any great apparent danger — with thorough control of the machine — and in the inconceivably brief period of seventy-five hours from shore to shore! By the energy of an agent at Charleston, S.C., we are enabled to be the first to furnish the public with a detailed account of this most extraordinary voyage, which was performed between Saturday, the 6th instant, at 11, A.M., and 2, P.M., on Tuesday, the{e} 9th instant, by Sir Everard Bringhurst; Mr. Osborne, a nephew of Lord Bentinck's;(2) Mr. Monck Mason and Mr. Robert Holland, the well-known aeronauts; Mr. Harrison Ainsworth, author of “Jack Sheppard,” &c.; and Mr. Henson, the projector of the late unsuccessful flying machine — with two seamen from Woolwich — in all, eight persons. The particulars furnished below may be relied on as authentic and accurate in every respect, as, with a slight{f} exception, they are copied verbatim from the joint diaries of Mr. Monck Mason and Mr. Harrison Ainsworth, to whose politeness our agent is also indebted for much verbal information respecting the balloon itself, its construction, and other matters of interest. The only alteration in the MS. received, has been made for the purpose of throwing the hurried account of our agent, Mr. Forsyth,(3) in a connected and intelligible form.


Two very decided failures, of late — those of Mr. Henson and Sir George Cayley — had much weakened the public interest in the [page 1070:] subject of aerial navigation.(4) Mr. Henson's scheme (which at first was considered very feasible even by men of science,) was founded upon the principle of an inclined plane, started from an eminence by an extrinsic force, applied and continued by the revolution of impinging vanes, in form and number resembling the vanes of a windmill. But, in all the experiments made with models at the Adelaide Gallery, it was found that the operation of these fans not only did not propel the machine, but actually impeded its flight. The only propelling force it ever exhibited, was the mere impetus acquired from the descent of the inclined plane; and this impetus carried the machine farther when the vanes were at rest, than when they were in motion — a fact which sufficiently demonstrates their inutility; and in the absence of the propelling, which was also the sustaining power, the whole fabric would necessarily descend. This consideration led Sir George Cayley to think only of adapting a propeller to same machine having of itself an independent power of support — in a word, to a balloon; the idea, however, being novel, or original, with Sir George, only so far as regards the mode of its application to practice. He exhibited a model of his invention at the Polytechnic Institution. The propelling principle, or power, was here, also, applied to interrupted surfaces, or vanes, put in revolution. These vanes were four in number, but were found entirely ineffectual in moving the balloon, or in aiding its ascending power. The whole project was thus a complete failure.(5)

It was at this juncture that Mr. Monck Mason (whose voyage from Dover to Weilburg in the balloon, “Nassau,” occasioned so much excitement in 1837,) conceived the idea of employing the principle of the Archimedean screw for the purpose of propulsion through the air — rightly attributing the failure of Mr. Henson's scheme, and of Sir George Cayley's, to the interruption of surface in the independent vanes. He made the first public experiment at Willis's Rooms, but afterwards removed his model to the Adelaide Gallery.(6)

Like Sir George Cayley's balloon, his own was an ellipsoid.(7) Its length was {gg}thirteen feet six inches — height, six feet eight inches.{gg} [page 1071:] It contained about {hh}three hundred and twenty{hh} cubic feet of gas, which, if pure hydrogen, would support twenty-one{i} pounds upon its first inflation, before the gas has time to deteriorate or escape. The weight of the whole machine and apparatus was seventeen{j} pounds — leaving about four{k} pounds to spare. Beneath the centre of the balloon, was a frame of light wood, about nine{l} feet long, and rigged on to the balloon itself with a network in the customary manner. From this framework was suspended a wicker basket or car.{m}

The screw consists of an axis of hollow brass tube, eighteen{n} inches in length, through which, upon a semi-spiral inclined at fifteen{o} degrees, pass a series of a steel wire radii, two{p} feet long, and thus projecting a foot on either side. These radii are connected at the outer extremities by two{q} bands of flattened wire — the whole in this manner forming the framework of the screw, which is completed by a covering of oiled silk cut into gores, and tightened{r} so as to present a tolerably uniform surface. At each end of its axis this screw is supported by pillars of hollow brass tube descending from the hoop. In the lower ends of these tubes are holes in which the pivots of the axis revolve. From the end of the axis which is next the car, proceeds a shaft of steel, connecting the screw with the pinion of a piece of spring machinery fixed in the car. By the operation of this spring, the screw is made to revolve with great rapidity, communicating a progressive motion to the whole. By means of the rudder, the machine was readily turned in any direction. The spring was of great power, compared with its dimensions, being capable of raising forty-five{s} pounds upon a barrel of four{t} inches diameter, after the first turn, and gradually increasing as it was wound up. It weighed, altogether, eight pounds six ounces. The rudder was a light frame of cane covered with silk, [page 1072:] shaped somewhat like a battledoor, and was about three{u} feet long, and at the widest, one foot. Its weight was about two{v} ounces. It could be turned flat, and directed upwards or downwards, as well as to the right or left; and thus enabled the æronaut to transfer the resistance of the air which in an inclined position it must generate in its passage, to any side upon which he might desire to act; thus determining the balloon in the opposite direction.

This model (which, through want of time, we have necessarily described in an imperfect manner,) was put in action at the Adelaide Gallery, where it accomplished a velocity of five{w} miles per hour; although, strange to say, it excited very little interest in comparison with the previous complex machine of Mr. Henson — so resolute is the world to despise anything which carries with it an air of simplicity. To accomplish the great desideratum of ærial navigation, it was very generally supposed that some exceedingly complicated application must be made of some unusually profound principle in dynamics.

So well satisfied, however, was Mr. Mason of the ultimate success of his invention, that he determined to construct immediately, if possible, a balloon of sufficient capacity to test the question by a voyage of some extent — the original design being to cross the British Channel, as before, in the Nassau balloon. To carry out his views, he solicited and obtained the patronage of Sir Everard Bringhurst and Mr. Osborne, two gentlemen well known for scientific acquirement, and especially for the interest they have exhibited in the progress of ærostation. The project, at the desire of Mr. Osborne, was kept a profound secret from the public — the only persons entrusted with the design being those actually engaged in the construction of the machine, which was built (under the superintendence of Mr. Mason, Mr. Holland, Sir Everard Bringhurst, and Mr. Osborne,) at the seat of the latter gentleman near Penstruthal in Wales.(8) Mr. Henson, accompanied by his friend Mr. Ainsworth, was admitted to a private view of the balloon, on Saturday last — when the two gentlemen made final arrangements to be included in the adventure. We are not informed for what reason the two seamen were also included in the party — but, in the course [page 1073:] of a day or two, we shall put our readers in possession of the minutest particulars respecting this extraordinary voyage.

The balloon{x} is composed of silk, varnished with the liquid gum caoutchouc.{y} It is of vast dimensions, containing more than 40,000 cubic feet of gas; but as coal gas was employed in place of the more expensive and inconvenient hydrogen; the supporting power of the machine, when fully inflated, and immediately after inflation, is not more than about 2500 pounds. The coal gas is not only much less costly, but is easily procured and managed.

For its introduction into common use for purposes of aerostation, we are indebted to Mr. Charles Green. Up to his discovery, the process of inflation was not only exceedingly expensive, but uncertain. Two, and even three days, have frequently been wasted in futile attempts to procure a sufficiency of hydrogen to fill a balloon, from which it had great tendency to escape owing to its extreme subtlety, and its affinity for the surrounding atmosphere. In a balloon sufficiently perfect to retain its contents of coal-gas unaltered, in quality or amount, for six months, an equal quantity of hydrogen could not be maintained in equal purity for six weeks.(9)

The supporting power being estimated at 2500 pounds, and the united weights of the party amounting only to about 1200, there was left a surplus of 1300, of which again 1200 was exhausted by ballast, arranged in bags of different sizes, with their respective weights marked upon them — by cordage, barometers, telescopes, barrels containing provision for a fortnight, water-casks, cloaks, carpet-bags, and various other indispensable matters, including a coffee-warmer, contrived for warming coffee by means of slack-lime, so as to dispense altogether with fire, if it should be judged prudent to do so. All these articles, with the exception of the ballast, and a few trifles, were suspended from the hoop overhead.(10) The car is much smaller and lighter, in proportion, than the one appended to the model. It is formed of a light wicker, and is wonderfully strong, for so frail looking a machine. Its rim is about four{z} feet deep. The rudder is also very much larger, in proportion, than that of the model; and the screw is considerably smaller. The balloon is furnished besides, with a grapnel, and a guide-rope; [page 1074:] which latter is of the most indispensable importance. A few words, in explanation, will here be necessary for such of our readers as are not conversant with the details of aerostation.

As soon as the balloon quits the earth, it is subjected to the influence of many circumstances tending to create a difference in its weight; augmenting or diminishing its ascending power. For example, there may be a disposition of dew upon the silk, to the extent, even, of several hundred pounds; ballast has then to be thrown out, or the machine may descend. This ballast being discarded, and a clear sunshine evaporating the dew, and at the same time expanding the gas in the silk, the whole will again rapidly ascend. To check this ascent, the only resource is, (or rather was, until Mr. Green's invention of the guide-rope), the permission of the escape of gas from the valve; but, in the loss of gas, is a proportionate general loss of ascending power; so that, in a comparatively brief period, the best constructed balloon must necessarily exhaust all its resources, and come to the earth. This was the great obstacle to voyages of length.(11)

The guide-rope remedies the difficulty in the simplest manner conceivable. It is merely a very long rope which is suffered to trail from the car, and the effect of which is to prevent the balloon from changing its level in any material degree. If, for example, there should be a deposition of moisture upon the silk, and the machine begins to descend in consequence, there will be no necessity for discharging ballast to remedy the increase of weight, for it is remedied, or counteracted, in an exactly just proportion, by the deposit on the ground of just so much of the end of the rope as is necessary. If, on the other hand, any circumstances should cause undue levity, and consequent ascent, this levity is immediately counteracted by the additional weight of rope upraised from the earth. Thus, the balloon can neither ascend or descend, except within very narrow limits, and its resources, either in gas or ballast, remain comparatively unimpaired. When passing over an expanse of water, it becomes necessary to employ small kegs of copper or wood, filled with liquid ballast of a lighter nature than water. These float, and serve all the purposes of a{a} mere rope on land.(12) [page 1075:] Another most important office of the guide-rope, is to point out the direction of the balloon. The rope drags, either on land or sea, while the balloon is free; the latter, consequently, is always in advance, when any progress whatever is made: a comparison, therefore, by means of the compass, of the relative positions of the{b} two objects, will always indicate the course. In the same way, the angle formed by the rope with the vertical axis of the machine, indicates the velocity. When there is no angle — in other words, when the rope hangs perpendicularly, the whole apparatus is stationary; but the larger the angle, that is to say, the farther the balloon precedes the end of the rope, the greater the velocity; and the converse.(13)

As the original design was to cross the British Channel,(14) and alight as near Paris as possible, the voyagers had taken the precaution to prepare themselves with passports directed to all parts of the Continent, specifying the nature of the expedition, as in the case of the Nassau voyage, and entitling the adventurers to exemption from the usual formalities of office: unexpected events, however, rendered these passports superfluous.

The inflation was commenced very quietly at daybreak, on Saturday morning, the 6th instant, in the Court-Yard of Weal-Vor House,(15) Mr. Osborne's seat, about a mile from Penstruthal, in North Wales; and at 7 minutes past 11, every thing being ready for departure, the balloon was set free, rising gently but steadily, in a direction nearly South; no use being made, for the first half hour, of either the screw or the rudder. We proceed now with the journal, as transcribed by Mr. Forsyth from the joint MSS. of Mr. Monck Mason, and Mr. Ainsworth. The body of the journal, as given, is in the hand-writing of Mr. Mason, and a P. S. is appended, each day, by Mr. Ainsworth, who has in preparation, and will shortly give the public a more minute, and no doubt, a thrillingly interesting account of the voyage.


Saturday, April the 6th. — Every preparation likely to embarrass us, having been made over night, we commenced the inflation [page 1076:] this morning at daybreak; but owing to a thick fog, which encumbered the folds of the silk and rendered it unmanageable, we did not get through before nearly eleven o’clock. Cut loose, then, in high spirits, and rose gently but steadily, with a light breeze at North, which bore us in the direction of the Bristol{c} Channel.(16) Found the ascending force greater than we had expected; and as we arose higher and so got clear of the cliffs, and more in the sun's rays, our ascent became very rapid. I did not wish, however, to lose gas at so early a period of the adventure, and so concluded to ascend for the present. We soon ran out our guide-rope; but even when we had raised it clear of the earth, we still went up very rapidly. The balloon was unusually steady, and looked beautifully. In about ten{d} minutes after starting, the barometer indicated an altitude of 15,000 feet. The weather was remarkably fine, and the view of the subjacent country — a most romantic one when seen from any point, — was now especially sublime. The numerous deep gorges presented the appearance of lakes, on account of the dense vapors with which they were filled, and the pinnacles and crags to the South East, piled in inextricable confusion, resembled nothing so much as the giant cities of eastern fable. We were rapidly approaching the mountains in the South; but our elevation was more than sufficient to enable us to pass them in safety. In a few minutes we soared over them in fine style; and Mr. Ainsworth, with the seamen, were surprised at their apparent want of altitude when viewed from the car, the tendency of great elevation in a balloon being to reduce inequalities of the surface below, to nearly a dead level. At half-past eleven still proceeding nearly South, we obtained our first view of the Bristol Channel; and, in fifteen minutes afterwards, the line of breakers on the coast appeared immediately beneath us, and we were fairly out at sea. We now resolved to let off enough gas to bring our guide-rope, with the buoys affixed, into the water. This was immediately done, and we commenced a gradual descent. In about twenty{e} minutes our first buoy dipped, and at the touch of the second soon afterwards, we remained stationary as to elevation.(17) We were all now anxious to test the [page 1077:] efficiency of the rudder and screw, and we put them both into requisition forthwith, for the purpose of altering our direction more to the eastward, and in a line for Paris. By means of the rudder we instantly effected the necessary change of direction, and our course was brought nearly at right angles to that of the wind; when we set in motion the spring of the screw, and were rejoiced to find it propel us readily as desired. Upon this we gave nine hearty cheers, and dropped in the sea a bottle, enclosing a slip of parchment with a brief account of the principle of the invention.(18) Hardly, however, had we done with our rejoicings, when an unforeseen accident occurred which discouraged us in no little degree.(19) The steel rod connecting the spring with the propeller was suddenly jerked out of place, at the car end, (by a swaying of the car through some movement of one of the two seamen we had taken up,) and in an instant hung dangling out of reach, from the pivot of the axis of the screw. While we were endeavoring to regain it, our attention being completely absorbed, we became involved in a strong current of wind from the East, which bore us, with rapidly increasing force, towards the Atlantic. We soon found ourselves driving out to sea at the rate of not less, certainly, than fifty{f} or sixty{g} miles an hour, so that we came up with Cape Clear, at some forty{h} miles to our North, before we had secured the rod, and had time to think what we were about. It was now that Mr. Ainsworth made an extraordinary, but to my fancy, a by no means unreasonable or chimerical proposition, in which he was instantly seconded by Mr. Holland — viz.: that we should take advantage of the strong gale which bore us on, and in place of beating back to Paris, make an attempt to reach the coast of North America. After slight reflection I gave a willing assent to this bold proposition, which (strange to say) met with objection from the two seamen only. As the stronger party, however, we overruled their fears, and kept resolutely upon our course. We steered due West; but as the trailing of the buoys materially impeded our progress, and we had the balloon abundantly at command, either for ascent or descent, we first threw out fifty pounds of ballast, and then wound up (by [page 1078:] means of a windlass) so much of a rope as brought it quite clear of the sea. We perceived the effect of this manoeuvre immediately, in a vastly increased rate of progress; and, as the gale freshened, we flew with a velocity nearly inconceivable; the guide-rope flying out behind the car like a streamer from a vessel. It is needless to say that a very short time sufficed us to lose sight of the coast. We passed over innumerable vessels of all kinds, a few of which were endeavoring to beat up, but the most of them lying to. We occasioned the greatest excitement on board all — an excitement greatly relished by ourselves, and especially by our two men, who, now under the influence of a dram of Geneva, seemed resolved to give all scruple, or fear, to the wind. Many of the vessels fired signal guns;{i} and in all we were saluted with loud cheers (which we heard with surprising distinctness) and the waving of caps and handkerchiefs.(20) We kept on in this manner throughout the day, with no material incident, and, as the shades of night closed around us, we made a rough estimate of the distance traversed. It could not have been less than five hundred{j} miles, and was probably much more. The propeller was kept in constant operation, and, no doubt, aided our progress materially. As the sun went down, the gale freshened into an absolute hurricane, and the ocean beneath was clearly visible on account of its phosphorescence. The wind was from the East all night, and gave us the brightest omen of success. We suffered no little from cold, and the dampness of the atmosphere was most unpleasant; but the ample space in the car enabled us to lie down, and by means of cloaks and a few blankets, we did sufficiently well.(21)

P. S. (by Mr. Ainsworth). The last nine hours have been unquestionably the most exciting of my life. I can conceive nothing more sublimating than the strange peril and novelty of an adventure such as this. May God grant that we succeed! I ask not success for mere safety to my insignificant person, but for the sake of human knowledge and — for the vastness of the triumph. And yet the feat is only so evidently feasible that the sole wonder is why men have scrupled to attempt it before. One single gale such as now befriends us — let such a tempest whirl forward a balloon for [page 1079:] four or five{k} days (these gales often last longer) and the voyager will be easily borne, in that period, from coast to coast. In view of such a gale the broad Atlantic becomes a mere lake. I am more struck, just now, with the supreme silence which reigns in the sea beneath us, notwithstanding its agitation, than with any other phenomenon presenting itself. The waters give up no voice to the heavens. The immense flaming ocean writhes and is tortured uncomplainingly.(22) The mountainous surges suggest the idea of innumerable dumb gigantic fiends struggling in impotent agony. In a night such as is this to me, a man lives — lives a whole century of ordinary life — nor would I forego this rapturous delight for that of a whole century of ordinary existence.(23)

Sunday, the seventh. [Mr. Mason's MS.] This morning the gale, by 10, had subsided to an eight or nine knot breeze, (for a vessel at sea,) and bears us, perhaps, thirty{l} miles per hour, or more. It has veered however, very considerably to the north; and now, at sundown, we are holding our course due west, principally by the screw and rudder, which answer their purposes to admiration. I regard the project as thoroughly successful, and the easy navigation of the air in any direction (not exactly in the teeth of a gale) as no longer problematical. We could not have made head against the strong wind of yesterday; but, by ascending, we might have got out of its influence, if requisite. Against a pretty stiff breeze, I feel convinced, we can make our way with the propeller. At noon, to-day, ascended to an elevation of nearly 25,000 feet,{m} by discharging ballast. Did this to search for a more direct current, but found none so favorable as the one we are now in. We have an abundance of gas to take us across this small pond, even should the voyage last three{n} weeks. I have not the slightest fear for the result. The difficulty has been strangely exaggerated and misapprehended. I can choose my current, and should I find all currents against me, I can make very tolerable headway with the propeller. We have had no incidents worth recording. The night promises fair.

P. S. [By Mr. Ainsworth.] I have little to record, except the fact [page 1080:] (to me quite a surprising one) that, at an elevation equal to that of Cotopaxi, I experienced neither very intense cold, nor headache, nor difficulty of breathing; neither, I find, did Mr. Mason, nor Mr. Holland, nor Sir Everard. Mr. Osborne complained of constriction of the chest — but this soon wore off.(24) We have flown at a great rate during the day, and we must be more than half way across the Atlantic. We have passed over some twenty{o} or thirty{p} vessels of various kinds, and all seem to be delightfully astonished. Crossing the ocean in a balloon is not so difficult a feat after all. Omne ignotum pro magnifico.(25) Mem: at 25,000 feet elevation the sky appears nearly black, and the stars are distinctly visible;(26) while the sea does not seem convex (as one might suppose) but absolutely and most unequivocally concave.*

Monday, the 8th. [Mr. Mason's MS.] This morning we had again some little trouble with the rod of the propeller, which must be entirely remodelled, for fear of serious accident — I mean the steel rod not the vanes. The latter could not be improved. The wind has been blowing steadily and strongly from the northeast all day; and so far fortune seems bent upon favoring us. Just before day, we were all somewhat alarmed at some odd noises and concussions in the balloon, accompanied with the apparent rapid subsidence of the whole machine. These phenomena were occasioned by the expansion of the gas, through increase of heat in the [page 1081:] atmosphere, and the consequent disruption of the minute particles of ice with which the network had become encrusted during the night.(27) Threw down several bottles to the vessels below. Saw one of them picked up by a large ship — seemingly one of the New York line packets. Endeavored to make out her name, but could not be sure of it. Mr. Osborne's telescope made it out something like “Atalanta.”(28) It is now 12, at night, and we are still going nearly west, at a rapid pace. The sea is peculiarly phosphorescent.

P. S. [By Mr. Ainsworth.] It is now 2, A.M., and nearly calm, as well as I can judge — but it is very difficult to determine this point, since we move with the air so completely.{v} I have not slept since quitting Wheal-Vor, but can stand it no longer, and must take a nap. We cannot be far from the American coast.

Tuesday, the 9th. [Mr. Ainsworth's MS.] One, P.M. We are in full view of the low coast of South Carolina. The great problem is accomplished. We have crossed the Atlantic — fairly and easily crossed it in a balloon! God be praised! Who shall say that anything is impossible hereafter?


The Journal here ceases. Some particulars of the descent were communicated, however, by Mr. Ainsworth to Mr. Forsyth. It was nearly dead calm when the voyagers first came in view of the coast, which was immediately recognised by both the seamen, and by Mr. Osborne. The latter gentleman having acquaintances at Fort Moultrie,(29) it was immediately resolved to descend in its vicinity. The balloon was brought over the beach (the tide being out and the sand hard, smooth, and admirably adapted for a descent,) and the grapnel let go, which took firm hold at once. The inhabitants of the island, and of the fort, thronged out, of course, to see the balloon; but it was with the greatest difficulty that any one could be made to credit the actual voyage — the crossing of the Atlantic. The grapnel caught at 2, P. M., precisely; and thus the whole voyage was completed in seventy-five{w} hours;(30) or rather less, counting from shore to shore. No serious accident occurred. No real [page 1082:] danger was at any time apprehended. The balloon was exhausted and secured without trouble; and when the MS. from which this narrative is compiled was despatched from Charleston, the party were still at Fort Moultrie. Their farther intentions were not ascertained; but we can safely promise our readers some additional information either on Monday or in the course of the next day, at farthest.

This is unquestionably the most stupendous, the most interesting, and the most important undertaking, ever accomplished or even attempted by man. What magnificent events may ensue, it would be useless now to think of determining.

[[Poe's Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears near the bottom of page 1080:]

* Note. — Mr. Ainsworth has not attempted to account for this phenomena,{q} which, however, is quite susceptible of explanation. A line dropped from an elevation of 25,000 feet, perpendicularly to the surface of the earth (or sea), would form the perpendicular of a right-angled triangle, of which the base would extend from the right angle to the horizon, and the hypothenuse from the horizon to the balloon. But the 25,000 feet of altitude is little or nothing, in comparison with the extent of the{r} prospect. In other words, the base{s} and hypothenuse of the supposed triangle would be so long when compared with the perpendicular, that the two former may be regarded as nearly parallel. In this manner the horizon of the æronaut{t} would appear to be on a level with the car. But, as the point immediately beneath him seems, and is, at a great distance below him, it seems, of course, also, at a great distance below the horizon. Hence the impression of concavity; and this impression must remain, until the elevation shall bear so great a proportion to the extent of prospect, that the apparent parallelism of the base and hypothenuse disappears — when the earth's real convexity must become apparent.{u} [Poe's note]


[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1068:]

Title:  Added in B

aa ... aa  Printed in headline form (A)

bb ... bb  Added in B

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1069:]

c  solved. (A)

d  Balloon; (A)

e  Omitted (A)

f  a slight / slight (A)

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 1070:]

gg ... gg  13 feet 6 inches — height 6 feet 8 inches (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1071:]

hh ... hh  320 (A)

i  21 (A)

j  17(A)

k  4 (A)

l  9 (A)

m  car. The mode of arrangement of the rudder and of the Archimedean screw, will be best shown in the annexed engraving, which we have kindly been permitted to use. (A)

n  18 (A)

o  15 (A)

p  2 (A)

q  2 (A)

r  lightened (A) misprint

s  45 (A)

t  4 (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1072:]

u  3 (A)

v  2 (A)

w  5 (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1073:]

x  balloon (an ellipsoid as represented in our engraving of the model) (A)

y  chauchonc (A) misprint

z  4 (A)

[The following variant appears at the bottom of page 1074:]

a  the (A)

[The following variant appears at the bottom of page 1075:]

b  Omitted (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1076:]

c  British (B) misprint corrected from A

d  10 (A)

e  20 (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1077:]

f  50 (A)

g  60 (A)

h  40 (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1078:]

i  guns; some displayed flags (A)

j  500 (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1079:]

k  4 or 5 (A)

l  30 (A)

m  feet (about the height of Cotopaxi) (A)

n  3 (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1080:]

o  20 (A)

p  30 (A)

q  phenomenon (A)

r  Omitted (A)

s  case (A) misprint

t  aronaut (A) misprint

u  become apparent. / appear. (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1081:]

v  completely. The vanes are working admirably. (A)

w  75 (A)

[page 1082, continued:]


1.  This paragraph repeats verbatim the screaming newspaper headlines of the Extra Sun. The first six words were omitted when the Sunday Times reprinted the piece. The four men named were real Englishmen. Thomas Monek Mason had accompanied Charles Green (1785-1870) on the famous flight of the Great Nassau balloon from Vauxhall Gardens, London, to Weilburg in Nassau, Germany, November 7-8, 1836. Green considered making regular flights, but also planned an “Atlantic Balloon,” to be operated by clockwork-driven propellers and steered by a rudder. There is an account of his experiments in the London Mirror, April 4, 1840; his invention, the dragrope or guide rope, is mentioned in “Mellonta Tauta” at n. 5. Mason wrote an account of the Nassau Voyage, and built a model balloon in 1843; both are referred to in the story. The man is curiously obscure; no date of birth is known. J. E. Hodgson, in his History of Aeronautics in Great Britain (1924) p. 249, says Mason was prominent in the operatic world, at one time a lessee of Her Majesty's Theatre in London, and lived until 1889. Robert Hollond M.P. backed Green financially, made the trip to Nassau, represented Hastings in Parliament, 1837-1851, and lived until 1870. Poe (or the printer) misspelled his name consistently, as “Holland.” William Samuel Henson was born in 1805, and in 1842 organized the Aerial Steam Transportation Company. His experiments ended in failure and in 1849 he emigrated to the United States. He lived first near Philadelphia, and died in Newark, New Jersey, March 22, 1888. William Harrison Ainsworth (1805-1882) was an English novelist, whose Guy Fawkes Poe reviewed unfavorably in Graham's Magazine for November 1841. I find no evidence of any interest in flying on the part of Ainsworth, but he was an extremely popular writer, and his name gives an excuse for literary touches in his part of the narrative. He is even made to quote Latin — and in “Marginalia,” number 12 (Democratic Review, November 1844, p. 4.86), Poe remarked on Ainsworth's love of phrases in that language.

2.  Sir Everard Bringhurst is imaginary; no knight or baronet of the name is listed by British authorities. Mr. Osborne is also made up. Lord William George Bentinck (1802-1848), son of the fourth Duke of Portland, had nephews through [page 1083:] his sister, the wife of Lord Howard de Walden, but their family name was Scott-Ellis.

3.  Nobody named Forsyth[e] is in the Charleston directories for 1840-41 and 1849, and none were published between those dates, according to Miss Virginia Rugheimer, Librarian of the Charleston Library Society.

4.  Sir George Cayley (1773-1857) is now generally called “The Father of British Aeronautics.” For pictures of his balloons see Hodgson, History of Aeronautics in Great Britain, p. 300. [According to C. H. Gibbs-Smith, Flight through the Ages (1974), p, 22: “In the first half of the nineteenth century there was little useful activity in aviation except by Cayley, until W. S. Henson published his brilliantly prophetic design for a monoplane, ‘Aerial Steam Carriage’ (1843) which ... did much to condition the thinking of later pioneers.”]

5.  With the preceding passage compare “Another Aerial Machine,” Alexander's Express Messenger, February 21, 1844, cited in the introduction above:

“Mr. Henson's scheme of flight is founded upon the principle of an inclined plane, started from an eminence by an extrinsic force, applied and continued by the revolution of impinging vanes, in form and number resembling the sails of a windmill. In the experiments which were made in this gallery, (the Adelaide) with several models of Mr. Henson's construction, it was found that so far from aiding the machine in its flight, the operation of these vanes actually impeded its progress; inasmuch as it was always found to proceed to a greater distance by the mere force of acquired velocity (which is the only force it ever displayed,) than when the vanes were set in motion to aid it — a simple fact, which it is unnecessary to dilate upon. It is to the agency of this cause, namely, the broken continuity of surface, that, I have no doubt, is also to be ascribed the failure of the attempt of Sir George Cayley to propel a balloon of a somewhat similar shape to the present, which he made at the Polytechnic Institution a short while since, when he employed a series of revolving vanes, four in number, disposed at proper intervals around, but which were found ineffectual to move it.”

6.  Willis's Rooms, in King Street, St. James's, were built in 1765 by William Almack, whose niece, Mrs. Willis, inherited the place in 1781. These Assembly Rooms were the scene of Almack's Balls, mentioned by Poe in “Lionizing.” The Royal Adelaide Gallery was in the Strand.

7.  With this paragraph and the next compare the following passage from Alexander's Express Messenger, cited in n. 5:

“The balloon, is as before stated, an ellipsoid or solid oval; in length 13 feet 6 inches, and in height 6 feet 8 inches. It contains a volume of gas equal to about 320 cubic feet, which, in pure hydrogen, would enable it to support a weight of twenty-one pounds, which is about its real power when recently inflated, and before the gas has had time to become deteriorated. The whole weight of the machine and apparatus is seventeen pounds; consequently, says the projector, there is about four pounds to spare. Beneath the centre of the balloon, and about two thirds of its length, is a frame of light wood, answering to the hoop of an ordinary balloon; to which are attached the cords of the net which encloses the suspending vessel, and which serves to distribute the pressure of the appended weight equally over its whole surface, as well as to form an intermediate means of attachment for the [page 1084:] rest of the apparatus. This consists of a car or basket in the centre ... The Archimedean screw (by which the model is propelled) consists of an axis of hollow brass tube eighteen inches in length, through which, upon a semi-spiral of 15 degrees of inclination, are passed a series of radii or spokes of steel wire, two feet long, (thus projecting a foot on either side) and which being connected at their outer extremities by two bands of flattened wire, form the frame-work of the screw, which is completed by a covering of oiled silk cut into gores, and tightly stretched, so as to present as nearly uniform a surface as the nature of the case will permit. This screw is supported at either end of the axis by pillars of hollow brass tube descending from the hoop, in the lower extremities of which are the holes in which the pivots of the axis revolve. From the end of the axis which is next the car, proceeds a shaft of steel, which connects the Archimedean screw with the pinion of a piece of spring machinery seated in the car; by the operation of which it is made to revolve, and a progressive motion communicated to the whole apparatus. This spring is of considerable power, compared with its dimensions, being capable of raising about forty-five pounds upon a barrel of four inches’ diameter after the first turn and gradually increasing as it is wound up. It weighs altogether, eight pounds six ounces. The rudder is a light frame of cane covered with silk, somewhat of the form of an elongated battledoor, about three feet long, and one foot wide, where it is largest. It weighs altogether only two ounces and a half ... Being so contrived as to be capable of being turned flat, and also directed upwards or downwards as well as to the right or left, it enables the aeronaut to transfer the resistance of the air, which, in an inclined position, it must generate in its passage, to any side upon which he may desire to act, and thus give determination to the course of the balloon in an opposite direction.”

The material in the Express Messenger, quoted in notes 5 and 7, is essentially the same as that given in parallel passages in Wilkinson's “Poe's ‘Balloon Hoax’ Once More” (AL, November 1960) as from Remarks on the Ellipsoidal Balloon ... , the ultimate source of Poe's borrowings. [Wilkinson used the copy at the University of Michigan, where it is not now available for checking, but a copy has been located at the Science Reference Library in London, catalogued under Thomas Monck Mason.]

8.  As observed in note 2 above, Mr. Osborne is Poe's invention — and so is Penstruthal, which is found in no atlas consulted.

9.  The last two paragraphs are based on the ideas of Charles Green concerning the possibility of crossing the Atlantic in a balloon — “the result of observations made during two hundred and seventy-five ascents,” according to the writer of “A Chapter on Science and Art” in Burton's Magazine, March 1840, who goes on to say: “Pure hydrogen must be discarded, as too subtle for our present means of retention. Balloons inflated with carburetted hydrogen (common coal gas) will retain a good inflation for a great length of time ... [Green] has ... travelled two thousand nine hundred miles with the same supply of gas, and could have continued its use for four months if necessary.”

10.  Poe's borrowings from Mason's Account of the Late Aeronautical Expedition ... were recorded in parallel passages in Scudder's “Poe's ‘Balloon Hoax” (AL, May 1949) where the full indebtedness was first worked out. See Mason's Account of the Late Aeronautical Expedition, p. 11, and footnote: [page 1085:]

“Provisions which had been calculated for a fortnight's consumption in case of emergency; ballast to the amount of upwards of a ton in weight, disposed in bags of different sizes, duly registered and marked, together with an unusual supply of cordage, implements, and other accessories to an aerial excursion, occupied the bottom of the car; while all around the hoop and elsewhere appended, hung cloaks, carpet-bags, barrels of wood and copper, coffee-warmer,* barometers, telescopes, lamps, wine jars and spirit flasks, with many other articles designed to serve the purposes of a voyage to regions where once forgotten, nothing could be again supplied.”

*  A machine had been contrived for the purpose of warming coffee and other liquors, without the intervention of fire, by the means of slacked lime.”

11.  See Mason, Account, p. 9: “When a balloon ascends to navigate the atmosphere, independent of the loss of power occasioned by its own imperfections, an incessant waste of its resources in gas and ballast becomes the inevitable consequence of its situation. No sooner has it quitted the earth than it is immediately subjected to the influence of a variety of circumstances tending to create a difference in its weight; augmenting or diminishing, as the case may be, the power, by the means of which it is supported. The deposition or evaporation of humidity to the extent, in proportion to its size, of several hundred-weight; the alternate heating and cooling of its gaseous contents by the remotion or interposition of clouds between the object itself, and the influence of the solar rays, with a variety of other more secret, though not less powerful agencies, all so combine to destroy the equilibrium which it is the main object of the Aeronaut to preserve, that scarcely a moment passes without some call for his interposition, either to check the descent of the balloon by the refection of ballast, or to control its ascent by the proportionate discharge of gas; a process by which, it is unnecessary to observe, the whole power of the balloon, however great its dimensions, must in time be exhausted, and sooner or later terminate its career by succumbing to the laws of terrestrial gravitation.”

12.  For the merits of the guiderope, see Mason, Account, pp. 8, 9: “Great however as are the merits of Mr. Green's previous discoveries, they may be said to yield importance to that whereby he has succeeded in enabling the aeronaut to maintain the power of his balloon undiminished during the continuance of the most protracted voyage it could ever be required to perform ... By the simple contrivance of a rope of the requisite magnitude and extent, trailing on the ground beneath, (and if over the sea, with a sufficient quantity of liquid ballast contained in vessels floating on its surface,) have all these difficulties [i.e., the necessary loss of gas and ballast] been overcome, and all the features of the art completely and effectually reversed. Harnessed to the earth or ocean, by a power too great for her to resist, it is in vain the balloon endeavours to change the level of her onward course.”

13.  See Mason, Account, p. 10n.: “The progress of the guide-rope being delayed to a certain extent by its motion over the more solid plane of the earth's surface, while the movement of the balloon is as freely as ever controlled by the propelling action of the wind, it is evident that the direction of the latter when in progress, must ever be in advance of the former; a comparison, therefore of the relative positions of these two objects by means of the compass; must at all [page 1086:] times indicate the exact direction of her course; while with equal certainty, an estimate can at once be obtained of the velocity with which she is proceeding, by observing the angle formed by the guide-rope, and the vertical axis of the machine. In proportion as this angle enlarges, an increase in the rate of the balloon may be infallibly inferred: and, vice versa, its diminution will be found to correspond exactly with the diminished velocity of her advance. When the rope is dependent perpendicularly, no angle of course is formed, and the machine may be considered as perfectly stationary, or at least endowed with a rate of motion too insignificant to be either appreciable or important.”

14.  Poe meant the English Channel (between Dover and Calais) here.

15.  Weal-Vor House, like its owner, is mythical.

16.  The Bristol Channel is between South Wales and the southwest tip of England, extending as far as Portsmouth.

17.  See Mason, Account, p. 16: “In this situation [over the English Channel], we prepared to avail ourselves of those contrivances, the merits of which, as I have already stated, it was one of the main objects of our expedition to ascertain; and consequently, to provide against the loss of power by the increase of weight proceeding from the humidity of the atmosphere, naturally to be expected on the approach of night, we commenced lowering the copper vessels which we had provided for the occasion.

“Scarcely, however, had we completed our design, and were patiently awaiting the descent we had anticipated, when the faint sound of the waves beating against the shore again returned upon our ears, and awakened our attention. The first impression which this event was calculated to convey, was that the wind had changed, and that we were in the act of returning to the shores we had so shortly before abandoned. A glance or two, however, served to show us the fallacy of this impression; the well known lights of Calais ... were already glittering beneath us.”

18.  Poe has characters put messages in bottles in “MS. Found in a Bottle,” “Mellona Tauta,” and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.

19.  Compare the narrative following the accident Poe's tale with the passage reproduced here to see how Mason's material was used by Poe to effect a dramatic reversal of direction and provide the crux of his story. In Mason's account the maneuver of the balloon set it “in the exact direction of crossing the straits” from England to France; in Poe's, it enabled the voyagers to make a new and daring decision to steer “due west”

From Mason's Account, p. 14: “Shortly after we had lost sight of the city of Canterbury, a considerable deviation appeared to have taken place in the direction of our route. Instead of pursuing our former line of south by east, which was that of the upper current, by means of which we had hitherto advanced, it became apparent that we were now rapidly bearing away upon one which tended considerably to the northward, and which, had we continued to remain within the limits of its influence, would have shortly brought us to sea, in the direction of the North Foreland. As it had all along been an object to proceed as near to Paris as circumstances would permit, we resolved to recover as soon as possible the advantages which a superior current had hitherto afforded us; and accordingly [page 1087:] rose to resume a station upon our previous level. Nothing could exceed the beauty of this manoeuvre, or the success with which the balloon acknowledged the influence of her former associate. Scarcely had the superfluous burden been discharged proportioned to the effect required, when slowly she arose, and sweeping majestically around the horizon, obedient to the double impulse of her increasing elevation and the gradual change of current, brought us successively in sight of all those objects which we had shortly before left retiring behind us, and in a few minutes placed us almost vertically over the Castle of Dover, in the exact direction of crossing the straits between that town and Calais, where it is confined within its narrowest limits.”

20.  Mason, Account, pp. 13, 14: “During the latter period of this part of our voyage, the balloon ... had continued so near the earth as to enable us, without much exertion, to carry on a conversation with such of the inhabitants as happened to be in our immediate vicinity.”

21.  See Mason, Account, p. 22: “The cold, during this part of the night especially, was certainly intense ... Strange, however, as it may appear, ... the effects produced upon our persons, undefended as they were by any extraordinary precautions, were by no means commensurate to the cause.”

22.  See Mason, Account, p. 16n: “I scarcely know whether it is an observation worthy of being committed to paper, that the sea, unless perhaps under circumstances of the most extraordinary agitation, does not in itself appear to be the parent of the slightest sound; unopposed by any material obstacle, an awful stillness seems to reign over its motions.” And compare, also, Poe's “Dream-Land,” lines 15-16: “Seas that restlessly aspire, / Surging, unto skies of fire.”

23.  Compare the famous lines, “One crowded hour of glorious life / Is worth an age without a name,” quoted by Sir Walter Scott in chapter 34 of Old Mortality from a poem by Major Mordaunt in the Edinburgh Bee, October 12, 1791, and reprinted in the Literary Digest, 1920, p. 38. The lines previously were generally supposed to be by Scott himself.

24.  See Mason, Account, p. 34n: “... we frequently rose to an elevation of about twelve thousand feet, occasionally higher. At no time, however, did we experience the slightest effect upon our bodies, proceeding from the diminished pressure of the atmosphere.” Cotopaxi, in Ecuador, 19,550 feet, in Poe's day was the highest mountain known. It is an active volcano, near Quito. See another mention of it in “Hans Phaall” in paragraph 24.

25.  The Latin, meaning “Everything unknown is taken for magnificent,” is from Tacitus, Agricola, XXX.

26.  See Mason, Account, p. 21: “The sky, at all times darker when viewed from an elevation than it appears to those inhabiting the lower regions of the earth, seemed almost black with the intensity of night; while by contrast no doubt, and the remotion of intervening vapors, the stars, redoubled in their lustre, shone like sparks of the whitest silver scattered upon the jetty dome around us.” Poe was writing hastily and did not notice that his source described a scene near midnight.

27.  See Mason, Account, p. 23: “At this moment, while all around is impenetrable [page 1088:] darkness and stillness, and darkness most profound, an unusual explosion issues from the machine above, followed instantaneously by a violent rustling of the silk, and all the signs which may be supposed to accompany the bursting of the balloon. In the same instant, the car as if suddenly detached from its hold, becomes subjected to a violent concussion, and appears at once to be in the act of sinking with all its contents into the dark abyss below ... In a moment after all is tranquil and secure ... The occurrence of this phenomenon ... is, nevertheless, susceptible of the simplest resolution, and consists in the tendency to enlargement which the balloon experiences in rising from a low to a higher position in the atmosphere and the resistance to this enlargement occasioned by the network previously saturated with moisture, and subsequently congealed.”

28.  A packet from Liverpool arrived in New York on Saturday, April 13, but it was really the Sheridan. The error was made intentionally for verisimilitude.

29.  Fort Moultrie is on Sullivan's Island in Charleston Harbor, where Poe was a soldier, 1827-1828. The island is the setting for “The Gold-Bug.”

30.  A dirigible balloon, the R 34, crossed the Atlantic in early July 1919. Its return trip took seventy-five hours, exactly Poe's figure. See the New York Sun, July 14, 1919, pointed out by Victor Paltsits for Phillips, Poe the Man, II, 873. Poe allowed his aeronauts to have very fair weather, unusual except for two brief periods in summer, and a very strong east wind, unusual at any time — small concessions indeed in fiction. Hervey Allen remarked in Israfel (1926), II, 588, that Poe “only anticipated the news by about a century.”


[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 1063:]

*  See John Edmund Hodgson, The History of Aeronautics in Great Britain from the Earliest Times to the Latter Part of the Nineteenth Century (London, 1924), for the progress of experiments in “aerial transit” and the attendant publicity during Poe's time.

  A. R. Leslie Melville, himself a pilot, published an article in London N & Q, November 11, 1933, on W. S. Henson and other early experimenters with aerial transit. Among other things he said, “As the value of their work was not realised in 1900, the D.N.B. does not include Henson . . . or Sir George Cayley (1774-1857), the Father of British Aeronautics.”

  “Poe's Balloon Hoax,” in the New York Nation, October 27, 1910.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 1064:]

§  Their articles in American Literature, May 1949 and November 1960, respectively, will be referred to in more detail later.

*  In parts of a series headed “A Chapter on Science and Art,” sometimes ascribed to Poe's pen — it now seems to me, on unsatisfactory evidence. Parts of it are quoted in note 9 below.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 1064, running to the bottom of page 1065:]

  The article in the Dollar Newspaper began, “Wise the aeronaut announces through the columns of the Lancaster Intelligencer that he intends to make an aerial trip across the Atlantic in a balloon in 1844,” and quoted from the announcement the following paragraph:

“The balloon is to be one hundred feet in diameter, which will give a nett ascending power of twenty-five thousand pounds — being amply sufficient to make everything safe and comfortable. A sea-worthy boat is to be used for the car, which is to be depended on, in case the balloon should happen to fail in accomplishing the voyage. The boat would also be calculated upon in case the regular current of wind should be diverted from the course by the influence of the ocean, or through other causes. The crew to consist of three persons, viz: an aeronaut, a navigator and a scientific landsman.”

No file of the Lancaster (Pennsylvania) paper for the right period has been located.

[On June 15, 1843, however, in an article headed “Crossing the Ocean in Balloons” (discovered by Dwight Thomas in his research on “Poe in Philadelphia, 1838-1844” and generously shared with us), the Philadelphia Spirit of the Times, p. 2 col. 3, had discussed Wise's proposed adventure and said, “Our pleasant friend of the Lancaster Intelligencer from whose paper we cut Mr. Wise's letter, remarks that ‘though the scheme may look Quixotic, we have no doubt that Mr. W. possesses the nerve to attempt and, we believe, the ability to carry it out!’ ” The Spirit of the Times then permitted Mr. Wise to speak for himself and copied his letter in full.

Little more than a month after the statement by John Wise the Spirit of the Times (July 20, 21, 22, 24, 25, 1843) published a story in five installments called “A Flight in the Aerial.” This is wildly fictional account of what can only be called an aerial binge over Europe and Africa on the part of some well-known characters, including Henson and Ainsworth who later reappeared in Poe's story. The author, [page 1065:] who used the pen name of Bon Gaultier, was William Edmonstoune Aytoun, shortly to become one of the editors of Blackwood's and son-in-law of its “Christopher North,” John Wilson. This amusing piece, recently brought to our attention by Professor Pollin, was no doubt known by Poe, and an important part of the ballooning balloon climate he was living in during the summer before he concocted “The Balloon Hoax.”]

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 1065:]

  Unlike the pamphlet, Alexander's Express Messenger (see notes 5 and 7 below) names the gallery, the Adelaide, where Mason's model was exhibited, does not capitalize the words “balloon” and “screw,” and has “15 degrees” instead of “15°,” all followed by Poe. [We are indebted to Ruth M. Doyle in the Reference Department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh for recent access to the February 21, 1844 issue of Alexander's Express Messenger.]

§  The American Antiquarian Society's copy of the issue cited was consulted.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 1066:]

*  Locke's paper, written for the Sun in 1835, “purported to reveal the discovery, by Sir John Herschel with his new telescope at the Cape of Good Hope, of men and animals on the moon ... the hoax increased the Sun's circulation to more than nineteen thousand, the largest of any daily of that time” (F. M. O’Brien in DAB). Poe mentioned Locke frequently, and published an (inaccurate) account of him as the last of the “Literati” papers, in Godey's for September [[October]] 1846.

  Dated May 21 and published in the Columbia Spy, May 25, 1844, as Letter II in the Doings of Gotham series.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 1067:]

  The Extra Sun bore no marked price.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 1068:]

§  There was a tradition, given me by a member of the staff of the Sun as long told by newspapermen, that on the day the hoax was published Poe, inebriated, stood outside the office telling people not to buy it, as he had written it! See Heartman and Canny, p. 85.





[S:1 - TOM3T, 1978] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions-The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (The Balloon Hoax)